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Hammons: With New Album, ‘Back From The Grave,’ The Sloths Connect With Young Audience

Tom McLoughlin: ‘Fifty Years Later We Are Living The Dream’

By CRAIG HAMMONS

Sometimes you find rock and roll and sometimes rock and roll finds you.

I got up early on this Sunday morning, grabbed a cup of coffee and checked my Facebook page.   I saw a listing for the Muscochella Music and Arts Festival at Chapman University and as I scrolled down I saw The Sloths were playing at 2 P.M.  The Sloths are a band whose reputation precedes them and has never left them for almost 50 years.  I have heard so much about The Sloths and now I will have the chance to see them live in Orange County on a Sunday afternoon.  I was freaking out and was ready to rock.

Sloths original frontman Tommy McLoughlin has a way with the gals - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

Sloths original frontman Tommy McLoughlin has a way with the gals – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

When I got to the festival a light jazz band was playing some funky grooves while everyone leisurely relaxed on the grass between the two stages.  Next up was a folky cat that was playing a George Strait song which forced me to evacuate the area for a short time.  As I wandered back I saw the Sloths setting up.  I went over to the stage and saw my buddy Rik Collins (Wooly Bandits, Motobunny, and The Seeds) who is now playing guitar and bass for The Sloths.  I told him how excited I was to be able to see a band that was part of the early rock and roll revolution of the ’60s.  He said “You are in for a really good time”.

The Sloths have a new album, 'Back From The Grave' - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

Tom McLoughlin: Frontman, professor and film director – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

The stage was set as these rockers came out of the garage to play in the broad day light to us eager and privileged fans.   The Sloths started with “7 and 7 Is,” a song that paid tribute to one their early influences Arthur Lee and Love.  Next up was the toe tapper “A Cutie Named Judy” originally done by Jerry “Boogie” McCain.  Lead singer (as well as film professor and director)  Tom McLoughlin was already in full tilt rock and roll mode working the stage like it was 1965 and whipping the crowd into a frenzy.   The next song “Never Enough Girls” was originally written for Joey Ramone.  The Ramones did record a version but Joey was never able to lay down the vocals.  The song was offered to The Sloths and they made this infectious track their own.  Once you hear this song you will never get it out of your head.

 

The Sloths: American Rock N Roll to the core - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

The Sloths: American Rock N Roll to the core – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

New Album ‘Back From The Grave’

The Sloths played most of the songs off their new album that was 50 years in the making titled, The Sloths: Back From the Grave.  It was now time to take this party to the people and Tom McLoughlin jumped into the audience to sing their song “Lust.”  We all started dancing around him in sort of a hippie communal kind of way, feeling the music inside where it feels so good.

Tom, who also teaches film at Chapman University returned to the stage to address the crowd of almost all college students.  He said “we all have dreams and what happens after you all get out of this place is to never give up your dreams, sometimes you do a bunch of other stuff like get married, have kids, get a crappy job and then somehow by God’s crazy sense of humor it turns around and you get to get to do what you always wanted to do.  It happened to us up here 50 years ago we had the dream and 50 years later we are living the dream.”  Tom should do the commencement address for this year’s graduating class.

Glad I got to connect with The Sloths - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

Glad I got to connect with The Sloths – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

The Sloths are all solid musicians.  Original founding member Michael Rummans (singer, songwriter, guitar and bass) has never left the garage and plays with a vengeance and appreciation of the music that mean so much to his life.  New lead guitarist Ruben De Fuentes has played with Blue Cheer and Steppenwolf took some incredible leads.  He may be quiet on stage but unleashes supreme shredding when it is time to shine.  Drummer Ray Herron keeps the beat going and keeps these boys on track.  We are all blessed that after all this time these 60’s rockers found each other to reunite the passion and power of The Sloths.

Professor Tom McLoughlin: 'Never Give Up Your Dreams' - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

Professor Tom McLoughlin: ‘Never Give Up Your Dreams’ – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

The clock was ticking and it was now time to play the song that first put them on the map “Makin Love.”  This song is considered a true 60’s classic and has just been re-released on 7 inch vinyl for record store day.  The crowd ate it up even though most probably never even heard it before.  Without stopping they went right into their closing number “Gloria” by Them. The Sloths had one more number to do but due to time restraints had to close out their set.  The small but mighty crowd cheered as these 60’s icons said “goodbye.”

The Sloths connect across a broad swath of fans - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

The Sloths connect across a broad swath of fans – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

This is the dawning of the age of The Sloths.  They are back after all these years and deserve all the respect and recognition that comes their way.  Go buy the new album, go see them live, go online and read their story, dance and have fun.  You can thank me later.   But most of all remember to live your dream.  The Sloths did and you can too.

Hammons Review: Sir Rod Stewart Makes A Knight To Remember in Knockout Caesars Palace Performance

By CRAIG HAMMONS

The curtain was drawn and anticipation was running high.  At 7:30 P.M. sharp the theme to The Magnificent Seven came roaring out of the public address system.  The curtains then opened to Rod Stewart’s band kicking into the Bar-Kays instrumental “Soul Finger.”

Rod then came prancing out on stage in his new leopard skin jacket to a thunderous round of applause and went right into “Having a Party.”  Now the mood was set for this evening of fun and foolish behavior. Rod didn’t miss a beat and went right into “Some Guys Have All the Luck” and “Young Turks” to make for a very energetic start.

Sir Rod Stewart lit up the crowd at Caesars - Photo by Craig Hammons for California Rocker

Sir Rod Stewart lit up the crowd at Caesars – Photo by Craig Hammons

Rod is doing residency here at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas before heading out on a world tour with Cindy Lauper that starts in the United Kingdom in May.  Rod welcomed the audience and said “We’re going to be here for the next 90 minutes so enjoy yourselves, ladies and gentlemen, it’s later than you think.”

A beautiful blonde sat down behind a very large gold harp and played the opening of “Tonight’s the Night.”  The audience knew this one by heart and sang along to every word.

Rod didn’t slow things down for long as he then paid honor to Chuck Berry who he had just learned had passed away earlier in the day.

Rod Stewart performed the classics at Caesars - Photo by Craig Hammons for California Rocker

Rod Stewart performed the classics at Caesars – Photo by Craig Hammons for California Rocker

“The first album I ever bought was Chuck’s Live at the Tivoli and I was never the same,” Rod said. “He was the founding father and you can hear his influence in every rock n roll band from my generation on.”

A picture of Chuck Berry flashed on the big screen and they went right into a rocking version of “Sweet Little Rock & Roller” with Rod working the stage like the true showman he is.

There was then a nod to Sir Rod’s recent knighthood before going into “Rhythm of My Heart” followed by “Forever Young” in which the crowd was signing so loud Rod gave it to us to sing all alone.   There was a percussion solo in the middle of the song which allowed Rod to slip off stage to make a costume change.

Rod and the band - Photo by Craig Hammons

Rod and the band – Photo by Craig Hammons

In true Rod Stewart fashion, in his band are beautiful and talented female violinists, harpist, mandolin players and three backup singers that keep the party going.  The impressive work from his male guitarist, drummers, bassist and sax player brought an age of freshness to these timeless classics.

Next up was a powerful and uplifting version of Tom Waits “Downtown Train” which, like many other covers he does, Rod made entirely his own.

Rod then decided to have a sit-down and brought the band to the front of the stage for an acoustic set starting with “The First Cut is the Deepest.”  He then asked “How many of you remember the Faces?” and the cheers rang out as they went into the Faces “Oh La La” off the Faces final album in 1973.   While they were are still seated it was time for Rod’s solo classic “You’re in My Heart” and the Van Morrison song “Have I Told You Lately” which Rod covered perfectly on his Unplugged and Seated album.

The three backup singers came back out center stage to shake it up to a rip roaring version of Ike and Tina Turner’s “River Deep, Mountain High.”   The band was tight and rolling down the river at full speed while the girls were dancing so hard Tina Turner would be proud.  Rod is a generous frontman who does put the spotlight on the band allowing them solos and the attention they deserve.

The one and only Rod Stewart plays Vegas before world tour - Photo by Craig Hammons

The one and only Rod Stewart plays Vegas before world tour – Photo by Craig Hammons

Rod now back out center stage with a new jacket and fresh pair of trousers played the song everyone grew up with the ever irresistible “Maggie May.”  Everyone was on their feet singing along when Rod decided to take a trip out into the audience.   He worked his way around the back of the orchestra section shaking hands, giving hugs and singing his heart out.   Once he got back on stage the band launched into “Stay With Me” and balloons fell from the ceiling and out came the soccer balls.  Rod at 72 still plays with a local soccer team and showed off his talent kicking some all the way up to the second level.

Sir Rodrick David Stewart played us the hits but saved one of his biggest for last “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy.”

The crowd loves Rod Stewart and he's still got the moves - Photo by Craig Hammons for California Rocker

The crowd loves Rod Stewart and he’s still got the moves – Photo by Craig Hammons for California Rocker

 

This two time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honoree showed us after over 100 million records sold he still is very relevant and “forever young.”  Tonight was the night and everything was better than alright.  The curtain was closing but the energy still filled the room with the crowd screaming for more.

The curtain came back up and the band wished everyone a good night and went into the Guy Lombardo’s “Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think).”   Rod Stewart gave us a selection of his hits, no American Songbook or new material just the songs we know in our heart by heart.

Hammons Review: The Crazy World of Arthur Brown Still Amazes the Fans Almost a Half Century Later

By CRAIG HAMMONS

Still Crazy, Arthur Brown - Photo by Craig Hammons

Still Crazy, Arthur Brown – Photo by Craig Hammons

When growing up one of the first records I ever bought that changed my life was The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.   Little did I know that almost a haft of century later I would be witnessing an amazing night of theatrics, psychedelic blues and the compelling showmanship of the man himself Arthur Brown.  He goes through more costume changes than Cher and has better dance moves than Jagger.

The evening started out with a quartet from Ohio name Electric Citizen led by the very dramatic and animated lead singer Laura Dolan.  Their brand of heavy rock was well received by the crowd and was a perfect opening for what was to be an epic night.  Most of the songs they played were from were from their latest release Higher Time.

Next up was White Hills who have been around since 2005 playing their brand of fuzz heavy psychedelic rock and roll.  The two members Ego Sensation (bass) and Dave W. (guitar, keyboard and vocals) led us on a trip into space filling the room with sonic sounds of ethereal heaviness.  But as their set progressed we just wanted what we came for the mighty and majestic Arthur Brown.

The moment we were all waiting for had finally arrived the man, the myth and the legend was now ready to grace the stage.   The band started things off with an instrumental introduction while we all waited enthusiastically for our leader into the crazy world we were about to visit to take the stage.   Once Arthur Brown arrived he was greeted with a thunderous round of applause from a very excited crowd.

They opened with the title track from their latest release Zim Zam Zim.  They then went on to captivate the audience with their classics and tracks from their vast catalogue of releases.  Arthur Brown’s singing ability at 74 is in fine form.  He can hit the high and low notes with ease and sing the blues like a true bluesman especially on his fine cover of Screamin Jay Hawkins “I Put a Spell on You.”

Arthur Brown at The Regent Theater - Photo by Craig Hammons for California Rocker

Arthur Brown at The Regent Theater – Photo by Craig Hammons

The show moved at a brisk pace while Arthur Brown mesmorized the audience with costume change and riveting vocal power.  One of the craziest costumes of the night was him dressed in a coat of LED lights during the song “The Unknown.”

With each song the energy got higher and Arthur decided to go out into the audience to touch the fans that were worshiping a power of passion they could have never imaged.  As he passed by me I patted him on the back and felt some of the electricity he was generating.

The Regent was ready to explode as the God of Hellfire lit his headdress on fire to sing the song we all know “Fire.”   To see this man at his age dance, sing and entertain the way he does is nothing short of an experience that will live on in our minds forever.

The band then played their last two songs of the night leaving the audience in total awe.

I feel very lucky to have witnessed one of the greatest rock acts of all time.  Tonight was rock and roll history.

This was a short run of only eight dates but from what I understand there will be another run of shows in September.  Do not miss this undisputed master of mayhem next time.

Hammons Review: Kenny Wayne Shepherd Brings Blues to Life for Packed Crowd @ Coach House

By CRAIG HAMMONS

Guitar slinger Kenny Wayne Shepherd came barnstorming into the Coach House on this cold rainy night to raise the roof of this juke joint.  This was the second night of his 2017 tour and this packed house knew they were about to witness a blistering rock and roll blues show. Most of the crowd must have seen Kenny before as anticipation was high and the audience seemed energized before the band even took the stage.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd at the Coach House - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

Kenny Wayne Shepherd at the Coach House – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

The lights dimmed and the band came out smoking with “Somehow, Somewhere, Someway” with Kenny going off like a wild animal that was just let out of his cage.  The band proceeded at a blistering pace, knocking out songs, solos and riffs like bluesmen playing with a vengeance. Just when you thought you could catch your breath they went into “The House is Rocking,” where Kenny pays tribute to his mentor the blues master Stevie Ray Vaughn.  The band kept it rocking as they then did the Stooges classic “Search and Destroy” with Kenny on lead vocals.  This song was covered on an album by Kenny’s side project The Rides, consisting of Steven Stills and Barry Goldberg.

After a four-song knockout it was time to bring things down a bit and they played a beautiful song called “I Found Love.”  Kenny explained that when they went to record it the producer wanted them to play it fast and upbeat.  But tonight they played it the way it was written as a slow blues ballad.  Kenny then took over lead vocals again on the old Elmore James song “Talk to Me Baby” before taking us back to the beginning with his first big hit “Deja Voodoo.”

The band would not be who they are without the mighty lead vocals from frontman Noah Hunt.  Kenny and Noah have been together for over 20 years and the chemistry between them shows as they interact on stage like brothers.   Kenny then said it was time to pay respect to one of the blues masters he was able to learn from and play with the late great BB King.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd at the Coach House - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

Kenny Wayne Shepherd at the Coach House – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

They then went on to play to perfection “Woke up This Morning” and “You Done Lost Your Good Thing.”

Kenny Wayne Shepherd and his band have a solid reputation as a live act and tonight they showed us why.  All of their studio songs are great but when they play them live they kick it up a notch or two and floor it.  They are the real deal and deliver their brand of rocking blues with sincere honesty and conviction allows them to carry the blues torch to future generations.

They ended with “Shotgun Blues” with the lyrics “Now I am a man baby, I ain’t no boy no more,” with Kenny going off like he sold his soul at the crossroads.  Kenny got his first guitar at the age of 3 from his grandmother when she cashed in her S and H Green Stamps.  Now he has a collection of guitars and is playing one with the crossroads sign on it.   Sweating, happy and ready for more they left the stage for a brief moment only to be called back by the dedicated crowd of fans all whipped up into a blues frenzy.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd at the Coach House - Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

Kenny Wayne Shepherd at the Coach House – Photo © 2017 Craig Hammons

Coming back strong with their most notable hit “Blue on Black” Noah Hunt had the whole audience singing along.  But it was now time to get this wang dang doodle of a party started and let Kenny show his stuff on the Slim Harpo tune “King Bee.”  This song takes him to another level as Kenny seems to be channeling the blues from some of the fallen legends he grew up on. Ending the night with an intensely powerful version of Hendrix’ “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).”

Kenny rips into his guitar like the ghost of Jimi is watching over him and makes it look easy in the process. Playing like a freight train rolling full speed down the tracking he seemed like he didn’t want to stop.  After a solid two hours of good time rocking blues they said goodnight this thankful crowd that got what they came for a rock and blues show of epic proportions.

Hammons Reviews: Thievery Corporation Still Keeps The Fans Dancing Under the Black Moon

By CRAIG HAMMONS

Thievery Corporation celebrates 20 years - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Thievery Corporation celebrates 20 years – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Thievery Corporation brought their hypnotic grooves, intricate rhythms and mystical funk to the Santa Barbara Bowl on this cool summer evening.  This is the 20-year anniversary of a band that continues to inspire with their broad canvas of styles and sounds.

Opening the show was Mexico City’s favorite band of muy loco rockers Café Tacuba.  These guys really know how to get the party started.  Lead singer Ruben Albarran and guitarist Jose Alfredo Rangel got the audience up and dancing to their various styles of espanol rock and roll.  The band’s flashy costumes and energy won over the early arrivals and set a festive tone for the evening.

As sun was setting and the black moon rising the anticipation was running high as most of the audience I talked to had seen Thievery Corporation before.  The lights dimmed and the familiar sounds of sitar, bass and percussion jammed out on the opening instrumental “Facing East.”

As the song ended out comes the first vocalist of the evening Lou Lou Ghelickhani singing “Take My Soul” a song with lush textures and sweet vocals.   The set had a caravan of rotating vocalist for each song.   Next up was Jamaican vocalist to get us fired up and grooving to songs such as “Blasting Through” and “Radio Retaliation.”   Before the song “Culture of Fear,” the vocalist said he was afraid of the police.  The opening line “seems to me like they want us to be afraid, man” touches on what is going on in our world today.

Set List of Crowd Favorites

Rob Myers rocked out on sitar - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Rob Myers rocked out on sitar – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Thievery Corporation has the mighty DJs Rob Garza and Eric Hilton sitting high above the band knocking out the beats mixing them with their many different cultural styles.  This tour being their 20 Anniversary had a set list full of crowd favorites and even a few covers.

About half way thru the set they did a version of Grateful Dead’s “Fire on the Mountain” and later the percussionist came forward to sing a rocking version of the Door’s “Strange Days.”

The quality of the musicianship and vocal power of all the singers highlight their vast changes in musical styles.  Ashish Vyas the bass player never stops moving while high stepping across every square inch of the stage.  Rob Myers the sitar / guitar player rocked hard on both instruments.  My favorite singer of the night was the mighty and majestic Natalia Clavier.  Her soft and sexy vocals styling on such songs as “Lebanese Blonde” draw you in to her seductive charm.

Rob Garza on Guitar

ruben-cafe-tacuba-california-rocker

Ruben Albarran of Cafe Tacuba – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

They heated things up again with two live show staples “Vampires” and “Heart is the Hunter.”  They created such a bond with the audience we all forgot about out problems and were fully engaged with their rhythms, beats and intricate electronic music.  Rob Garza came down from his DJ booth to play guitar as they closed with “Warning Shots.”  Everyone was dancing to the heavy bass riff and rap reggae vocals.   Rob then stepped to the mic and said “we weren’t going to do this song” but he said he wrote it while he was roaming the hills above Santa Barbara and they went in to the sweet and sensual “Depth of My Soul.”

As this sweaty hippie groove party was about to end they came back out and jammed on the instrumental track “The Forgotten People” before bringing Lou Lou back to sing “Sweet Tides.”  But it would not be a Thievery Corporation show without doing “The Richest Man in Babylon” from there 2002 album of the same name.  After shaking my suitcase for two hours with this band of incredible musicians and the two beautiful songstresses I felt good to be alive.  A band of this caliber should not be ignored.  Every person there was a delighted fan or was converted by the sweet melody, atmosphere and vibe only Thievery Corporation can provide.

Hammons Reviews: Yo Yo Ma and Friends Show at Hollywood Bowl Brings Music Worlds Together

Global Ensemble Make Beautiful Noise at Hollywood Bowl

A night that brought worlds together - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

A night that brought worlds together – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

By CRAIG HAMMONS

Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble bring the world together in music and song as they end their 17-date run of the USA at the Hollywood Bowl.

Yo Yo Ma is a man who understands once music hits the ear it makes order out of chaos.  It joins people together – there is no culture that doesn’t have music.  Ma brought together the evolution of his favorite 18-year project, The Silk Road Ensemble.

Transcending Borders

The music they create celebrates difference by exploring the unfamiliar and giving them the opportunity to build something new.

The opening fanfare showed what it is like to transcend borders and the joy of allowing it to happen thru music.  Cristina Pato from Spain playing Galician bagpipes and Wu Tong playing the Chinese horn in electrifying abandon meet center stage connecting two sides of the world and their cultural roots.  Next up was “Ichichila” a tune traditionally sung by the people of West Africa.  It had a cool relaxed vibe to it and a good way to set the tone for the evening.

© 2016 Craig Hammons

Bagpipes, horns and violins – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Silk Road violinist Colin Jacobsen — originally from Minnesota — brought us “O’Neil’s Calavary March,” a tune in the Irish tradition that dates back to the early 1800s.

It featured layers of instruments from a kamancheh, a pipa and some western strings.

On “Green (Vincent’s Tune)” they took a simple melody and turned it into an explosion of bass drumming and gong slamming gone mad.

My favorite song of the night was from Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh called “Wedding.” He said that back home in Syria amist the bombs dropping and the daily fear, there is still the search for love.  This a song about coming together to beat the odds and celebrate.  He warned us that this song could get loud and next thing I knew it was like we were in a Syrian village party.  He dedicated it to all the Syrians who have managed to fall in love in the last five years.

Silk Road Ensemble

Ma did come forward to explain how the Silk Road Ensemble came together but mainly was just another member of the band.  He picked up his cello joined Christina Pato now on piano to do a piece together that was beautiful and full of emotion.

Myriad colors and music - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Myriad colors and music – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

There were many other mergers of musicians and instruments some that seemed improvised while others were full grooves and rhythms.

Kayhan Kalhor, one of the band’s core members, plays a kamancheh otherwise known as an Iranian fiddle.  He was featured in many of the songs making his instrument sing while at time putting us into a trance.

Tribute to Prince

Some of the crowd wished there was more Ma but no one was disappointed.  They closed out the night with a colorful version of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” a song that fit well into their repertoire.   The Bowl was lit purple and the crowd was on their feet giving these musicians from around the world the standing ovation they deserve.

Many of the selections tonight were on the Silk Road’s new recording Sing Me Home. You can find out more about the Silk Road Ensemble at silkroadproject.com.

Michael Franti and Spearhead’s ‘Soulrocker’ Tour Brings Love to the Pacific Amphitheatre

By CRAIG HAMMONS

– SOULROCKER (Sol-rahk-er) – One who lives from the heart, with compassion for all, and possesses a tenacious enthusiasm for music, life and the planet.

Once Michael Franti and his band Spearhead stepped on stage, this evening became a celebration of life.

He’s a soul saver, life changer and spiritual and lyrical activist whose music gives fans renewed energy and a stronger sense of purpose.  We were here to hear the music that would take our minds off the madness that’s going on in this crazy world and unite us all as one.

The crowd was already on their collective feet ready to dance, sing and rejoice in the music that would bring good vibes to us all night long.  Once you attend a Franti concert you understand the power of this man, his band, his message of love and the pleasure it brings.  By his second song “Sound of Sunshine,” he had already invited a couple of kids on stage to join him.  These are family shows that span generations.  Franti works the stage with his arms wide open.  When he asks “How ya feelin’?” we all respond with cheers of happiness.

Michael Franti and the Soulrocker tour - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Michael Franti and the Soulrocker tour – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

The songs on the current tour are heavily focused on his newest CD, Soulrocker.  When he performed the latest single “Good to Be Alive Today,” he engaged the audience to listen and understand deep inside what he’s singing about.  He then entered the audience and made his way back to the mid-section armed only with his guitar and a song.

Along the way he hugged, took photos and let people sing with him.  The crowd becomes one and we listen to his quiet observations on things that are personal but yet universal.  When he told the audience about growing up as an adopted child he said “We were told to receive everyone as we would want to be received, regardless of their background, race or what school they came from.”

It brought tears to my eyes to see a mother lift her son out of his wheelchair and hold him up to dance together for a few minutes.  Franti on his way back to the stage saw this and stopped and gave them both a big hug while still singing.  I later spoke to the mom who said her son was paralyzed on his right side and had not smiled from ear to ear for years, but tonight he was wearing a full smile.

Michael Franti and the Soulrocker tour - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Michael Franti and the Soulrocker tour – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

The live show is a musical miracle we all share together.  I walked in to the Pacific Amphitheatre tonight knowing about three people.  When I left I felt like I had 7,000 new friends.  When he sang “Once a Day,” he asked us to interlock our arms together with our neighbors and create a universal bond.  The old man and his wife next to me put their arms around me as we sang “Everybody ought to hug somebody, at least once a day and we all will rise up.”  The live show is also a dance party when Franti says “I want to see everyone jump!” every single person had their hands in the air jumping and reaching for the moon.

I looked around and saw the energy, fun and smiles on the faces of everyone there.  Franti says “I make music because I believe it can change people’s lives and make a difference in the world.”  Tonight we all believed in his message.

Michael Franti and the Soulrocker tour - Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

G. Love and Special Sauce on Soulrocker tour – Photo © 2016 Craig Hammons

Towards the end of the set he said “We got to get some kids up here!”  Next thing, he had about two dozen kids on stage singing “Say Hey (I Love You)” with him.  He gave the mic to the little kid next to him who knew every word.   He then did “My Lord” which turned the place into a giant party with people dancing in the aisles, holding each other, making new friends, crying tears of joy and for a few hours, feeling — as Bob Marley once sang — that “Every little thing is going to be all right.”  He then thanked the whole crew from each band member to the bus driver.  As they whole crew came out John Lennon’s imagine was playing over the sound system.

Michael Franti and Spearhead touched each and every one of us tonight with his love and honesty.  So let’s all be Soulrockers and be full of compassion and one day maybe the world will live as one.

Opening the evening was G. Love and Special Sauce who brought his brand of blues, funk and soul that was well received.

Soulrocker Tour – Pacific Amphitheatre with G. Love and Special Sauce

Empire of the Sun Heat up Pacific Amphitheatre, Frontman Steele Smashes His Guitar to Bits

By CRAIG HAMMONS – To truly enjoy Empire of the Sun you have to see the live show and that is what 7,000 of us colorful fans did this perfect summer evening.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/mmmchoco/23945842866/in/photolist-Cu1GPL-BXP3ZT-ByND3N-ByVWqt-ByVWiK-Cw66gD-Byzby1-CoN42R-C4XzDh-C4XzyY-CoN3JM-BXzAFr-Cw656T-Cw64Vx-BXzAa6-Byza5Q-BXzzUr-Byz9Pj-Cmw9a1-CoN1V6-Cw63kt-BXzyDk-Cmw8gC-Cw62SV-CtMeo9-BWy7Xt-BxxChW-BxxCej-CsKPkC-CkuBhs-CsKP7w-CnLAKa-BWy7dH-CsKNNW-BxF5ax-CnLAit-CnLA7X-BxF4DT-Cv4war-Cv4w3T-Cv4vWR-Cv4vRk-CkuzKu-CnLzna-BxF3T4-CnLz94-CkuzoN-BWy5zT-CnLyRF-CsKLYo

Empire of the Sun – Photo courtesy Goatling

At 9:15 the lights dimmed and a fine mist took over the stage, the entrance music for Empire of the Sun began and some darkened silhouettes of four dancers and three musicians appeared.

After a burst of color and light, front man Luke Steele took center stage to open with “Old Flavours.”

Before they finished the first song the entire audience was on their feet and under their spell.  By the second song “DNA” with the lyrics “Just take me away, be my DNA” is exactly what they did.

Luke Steele’s vocals were spot on and he seemed happy to hear the audience singing the words right along with him.  Each song carried a different array of colors and lights with a huge screen that showed different themes and pictures.  During “Half Mast,” the screen showed a field of flowers and pictures of a planet they landed on.  The band and dancers blend well together as they dance and play through a sea of smoke wrapped in velvet and gold.

It is not hard for this band to keep the audience engaged.  It is almost impossible to turn your eyes away from the stage.  Frontman Luke Steele has his own stage out front and center that has a small keyboard that he plays at the same time as playing his guitar.  But he wanders the stage with his elaborate costumes and headdresses, working the audience into a frenzy.  He even went out into the crowd a few times creating drama and showing what a powerhouse bandleader he is.  This is more than a concert; it is a theatrical performance that could fit well on a Broadway stage.

Empire of the Sun - Photo courtesy Goatling

Empire of the Sun – Photo courtesy Goatling

The show was perfectly choreographed with the dancers changing costumes that ranged from alien rock stars with guitars that lit up, to astronauts and butterflies.  The dancers were always in synch and brought an element of fantasy to each song.  Part of this may be because Steele’s partner, Nick Littlemore, worked as composer and musical director for the Cirque Du Soliel’s touring arena shows.

Empire of the Sun’s musical performance makes you feel like you’re in a movie filled with special effects and a cool soundtrack.   By the time they got to “Walking in Dream,” the audience enthusiasm was out of control.

When Luke Steele sang the lyrics “Thought I’d never see the love you found in me” you could see he was happy as he wandered back into the audience to feel the love of the fans.  They ended their set with “Tiger By My Side” and Steele went ’80’s rock star on our ass playing and smashing his guitar to pieces.  The stage went dark and we all couldn’t believe what just happened.  But before we could catch our breath they were all back on stage with “Standing On the Shore.”

They ended with “Alive” and every one of us sang along to the chorus, “Loving every minute, cause you make me feel alive, alive.”  That’s exactly how we felt tonight after experiencing Empire of the Sun.

Hollywood Bowl Fans Feel Irie as The Great Burning Spear Makes His Final California Appearance

Burning Spear - Photo by Craig Hammons

Burning Spear – Photo by Craig Hammons

By CRAIG HAMMONS

Jah cool wind blew peace and harmony over the Hollywood Bowl a beautiful summer evening last week as the sounds of reggae music would soon be soothing our souls.  Everyone was feeling Irie and ready to groove.

We all knew this would be a special evening as Burning Spear announced this would be his final concert in California.  Fans, family and friends came from all over the world to be part of the Burning Spear Experience.

KCRW’s Jeremy Sole opened the night by bringing out the Etana the Jamaican princess of reggae.  She and her roots reggae band covered some of her well known tracks like “Roots” and “Blessing,” before getting into her album “The Strong One” and some tracks from her newest album “I Rise.”   Some of the stand out tracks she performed were “Don’t Forget” and “Jah Chariot.”  She kept the positive energy flowing by covering Bob Marley’s classic One Drop” and even covered the Beatles “Don’t Let Me Down.”  At the end of her set she asked the audience if we were afraid and ended her set with “I Am Not Afraid.”   She told us all to “Do not walk with fear, with all that is going on in the world, find the strength to say no, I am not afraid.”

Ky-Mani Marley - Photo by Craig Hammons

Ky-Mani Marley – Photo by Craig Hammons

Next up was Bob’s son Ky-Mani Marley who kicked things off with his dad’s song “Concrete Jungle”.  The crowd was now up and feeling inspired by this music that magically moves them.  Ky-Mani asked “Are you feeling Irie” (the state of feeling great)?  Everyone was feeling the positive vibes.

He then played a couple new tracks called “Love Over All” and “Hey” which showed what a good song writer he is.

Ky-Mani brought out his friend Sammy Wilk to sing “Light Up” which didn’t take long for a smoky haze to form over the Bowl.   He kept the set fast and lively as he said he wanted to get in a few songs we all loved and ended his set with “Is This Love” and “Redemption Song”.  Every little thing was alright.   He thanked the crowd for this beautiful evening in one of his favorite places.  Rastafari!

As darkness fell over the Hollywood Bowl the stage was lit up bright waiting for the Jamaican roots reggae singer, conga player, Rastafarian and cultural icon Burning Spear.  The We Are One Band came on and played some instrumentals before Burning Spear strolled on stage to thunderous applause and much respect and appreciation.  Tonight was the last chance to see Spear and he would not disappoint his reggae brothers and sisters.

Spear said: “It’s going to be my last show in California and it’s time for “I MAN” to stand down from the stage as I want to say goodbye to my fans.”

Burning Spear - Photo courtesy Marco Swk

Burning Spear – Photo courtesy Marco Swk

Spear is now 71 years old but has got the energy of a young lion.  Spear is just one cool cat.  He was wearing ripped jeans and a Rasta vest and urging the people to sing along.  “Talk to me people,” he would say and we all would respond with cheers of happiness.   The crowd was loving his positive and uplifting songs of love, peace and unity.  Spear told us that we are free and we are going to rock the Hollywood Bowl tonight and that is what we did.

Spear tore thru his set dancing and playing his congas like he was a young Jamaican lad all over again.

He played “Jah No Dead” reassuring the crowd that all is not lost, stay strong and stand tall.  Spear then reminded the crowd that the Spear has been burning since 1969 until now.  He then ran thru some upbeat versions of “Red, Green and Gold” and “Tumble Down” before slowly walking off stage left.  The entire Hollywood Bowl was on their feet screaming for more.  Then Spear and his band came back out and said “Shout it if you want to hear more original reggae music.”    He then went into a slow emotional version of “Purple Rain.”  We all sang along with Burning Spear as he saluted Prince because he always stood up for what he believed in.

The evening ended with a song of truth called “Slavery Days” and then “Holy Foundation.”  Spear stretched arms out to the audience as if he was try hug each of us.  He said “It’s my last performance in California, I know you will always remember Burning Spear and keep his music alive.”  Many happy memories were made tonight as we all were spell bound by the love and unity we all experienced tonight.  Keep the Spear burning.  One love.

 

John Mayall, Known as ‘Godfather of British Blues,’ to play Del Mar Fair

John Mayall - Photo by Federico Giammusso

John Mayall – Photo by Federico Giammusso

By CRAIG HAMMONS – John Mayall may be 83 years old, but count on “The Godfather of British Blues”  to play as if he were 20 when he performs at the Del Mar Fair on June 15.

Mayall will be touring throughout the U.S. this summer and fall.

At a recent performance at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ Jazz, Blues and R and B Weekend, Mayall kept the crowd going with the promise of much more music yet to come.

Mayall, long regarded as a master of blues, was joined by Charlie Musselwhite and three-time Grammy-nominated vocalist Bettye La Vette.

–> See JOHN MAYALL TOUR dates <–

Musselwhite opened with the barn burner “Good Blues Tonight.” Fifty years of nonstop touring has not stopped this bluesman from slowing down. Musselwhite is proof that great music only gets better with age. He reminisced about being born in Mississippi, then later moving to Florida but like all good blues cats he said his heart is in Chicago. He later did a song called “Strange Land” about when he arrived in Chicago and how big and strange it was, with so many tall building and people everywhere.

Charlie’s band may be the best he’s ever had with drummer June Core, bassist Steve Froberg and guitarist Matt Stubbs. For Charlie, the blues is his best friend, as it’s been with him through the good times and comforts him in the bad. This blues cat is still at the top of his game and tonight it showed.

Bettye Lavette - Photo by Bryan Ledgard

Bettye Lavette – Photo by Bryan Ledgard

After a short intermission, next up was mighty and majestic soul singer LaVette. I’ve only heard a few of her of songs before tonight. But after a few songs in, I realized she does not only sing a song, she lives inside each song. LaVette set a high standard and never fell below it.

She can re-sculpt a song, bring it to life and make it her own. She did a very personal song called “A Woman like Me” where she sings: “It’s hard loving a woman like me, you need to think about it before you get hooked on the venom and can’t live without it.”

She’s a tall, slim and sultry woman that slides across the stage with grace.  Her career spans over 50 years. When it was time for her to close out her set she just kept singing as she exited stage left.

Next up was the legendary Mayall. A pioneer of blues music who has had nothing but the best players in has band over the last 50 years including Eric Clapton, Peter Greene, Walter Trout, Mick Taylor and Coco Montoya. But the blues brothers he had with him tonight were tight and on fire. His touring band consists of: Rocky Athas (guitar), Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums).

At 83 years old, Mayall played like he was a teenager again. He had two keyboards set up in front of the stage with one a piano and the other a Hammond B3. He switched between them effortlessly while at the same time playing harmonica. By the time they were into their second song “Congo Square,” the joint was jumping. One of my favorite songs of the night was the old Sonny Boy Williamson song “Help Me” also done by Ten Years After. Besides playing keyboards and harmonica, Mayall also played guitar on a couple songs even taking some pretty impressive solos.

They whole band all played with excitement and emotion that touched the audience. Mayall says “The blues take takes you, claims you and never lets you go.”

Make no mistake Mayall is a true bluesman still out on the road.

Video courtesy of DoctorNoe

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